Prevalence of polyneuropathy in the general middle-aged and elderly population

Rens Hanewinckel, Judith Drenthen, Marieke van Oijen, Albert Hofman, Pieter A van Doorn, M Arfan Ikram
Neurology 2016 November 1, 87 (18): 1892-1898

OBJECTIVE: To determine the prevalence of chronic polyneuropathy in an unselected community-dwelling population of middle-aged and elderly people.

METHODS: The current study was embedded in the prospective, population-based Rotterdam Study. Between June 2013 and October 2015, 1,310 participants (mean age 70 years, 55% female) were screened for the presence of polyneuropathy. This screening consisted of a questionnaire, neurologic examination, and nerve conduction studies. Polyneuropathy was diagnosed by a consensus panel that categorized participants into no, possible, probable, or definite polyneuropathy, depending on the level of abnormality of the screening. Medical records were scrutinized to evaluate whether the disorder was diagnosed before and laboratory investigations were performed to determine the presence of associated risk factors.

RESULTS: Prevalence of definite polyneuropathy was 5.5% (95% confidence interval 4.4-6.9), age-standardized to the population of the Netherlands 4.0% (3.1-5.3). Prevalence was higher in male participants (6.7% compared to 4.5%) and increased with age. When combining probable and definite polyneuropathy, age-standardized prevalence was 9.4% (7.9-11.1). Almost half of the polyneuropathies (49%) were newly diagnosed. The majority of polyneuropathies were idiopathic (46%). Diabetes, present in 31% of participants with polyneuropathy, was the most commonly found risk factor.

CONCLUSIONS: Prevalence of polyneuropathy in the general middle-aged and elderly population is at least 4%, and increases with age. Almost half of the cases were newly diagnosed, indicating that the presence of polyneuropathy is underreported or underdiagnosed. Currently, almost half of the polyneuropathies are idiopathic. Future prospective cohort studies should focus on identifying new determinants of polyneuropathy.

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